Help with mussels

Shellfish stall at farmers’ market

I felt at sea (pardon pun) with the mussels, purchased earlier that day from the Handpicked Shellfish Company at Bristol farmers’ market (see pic, taken a few weeks ago).

10pm on Wednesday and we had not eaten supper. Luckily Mike took over. He was brought up by the sea so knows his fish.

He scrubbed the kilo of mussels (sounds a lot but their shells are heavy) under the tap with a brush, taking off any grey crusty barnacles.

Preparing fresh mussels is hardcore. They are (hopefully) alive when you buy them because a dead one is not fresh and could give you food poisoning. Scary.

When a mussel is dead, its tightly-closed shell opens. So, if when cleaning them, you find one open, you must chuck it. Mike only had to throw one away, which out of a whole kilo, is a testament of freshness.

Top recap. If it is open (before cooking), the mussel could poison you. Bad.

However, when you cook the mussels, the hot steam of your bubbling broth kills them. So the shells open. That’s Good. (Means the mussels are ready to eat).

Listen up, this is complex. If mussel’s shell remains tightly-closed, after cooking, that’s Bad. Means the mussel was unfresh before you started. Throw it away.

(I begun to see why the elders back in the desert said no to mussels.)

I wanted to sweat tinned anchovies (rinsed of the oil they were stored in) just like Nigel Slater told me about last Sunday. But I had none, so I fried an onion in olive oil instead and added half a mug water, slowly.

We now had a bit of bouillon going. Mike popped in some smoked haddock for salty flavouring and the monkfish cheeks, cut in chunky pieces. A firm fish, it keep that firmness when simmered in a stew or soup.

Then Mike added the organic purple kale from Better Food. At this moment I felt the pang of my lesser status, as commis to his chef. Could we not cut up the kale up a bit? I asked, looking with dismay at the large leaves in the pan.

The trouble with accepting help is you lose control. I had lost the right to muscle in on the mussels.

One response to “Help with mussels

  1. I love mussels and we used to collect them along with cockles and punger edible crabs from the shores around Margate where I grew up. People say that you should not eat mussels because of the quality of the sea but I think that they are OK if they grow on a tidal beach as opposed to an estuary.


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